Olympic champion, world champion, two-time European champion, multiple German champion: Kira Walkenhorst won everything in beach volleyball. After a 23-month injury break, the 29-year-old is making her comeback this weekend in Düsseldorf at the qualification tournament for the German championship. She hears one question particularly often: Are the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris the goal?
Clear answer: yes. “Of course that appeals to me again,” says Walkenhorst to SPIEGEL. “As a result of the postponement of the games, new team configurations will only emerge in September 2021. It is still a long way off.”
The Olympic gold medalist from Rio de Janeiro, however, has learned not to think so long: “I currently work primarily with short-term goals – to play painlessly and to have fun doing it.”
Surgery ten times on the back, five times on the knee
Pain free, that’s the magic word. Walkenhorst had a lot of pain in her career. She underwent surgery on her back ten times, five times under her knife with a broken knee. In 2014 she paused almost the entire season with glandular fever. The Olympic gold medal in 2016 and the world championship title in 2017 were spot-on landings, and often they were only really fit in the finals. She ended her career in winter two years ago. The sufferings had grown too great.
Since Walkenhorst’s resignation, the German beach volleyball players have won little, the former top nation has slipped. At the time of the gold medal in Rio four years ago, Germany was one of the absolute world leaders, at times four teams were in the top 10 in the world rankings.
With Walkenhorst’s departure, however, three new national teams were created in one fell swoop. Her ex-partner and Olympic champion Laura Ludwig has been playing with Margareta Kozouch since then. Her ex-teammate Karla Borger therefore lost her blocker. She now smashes with Julia Sude, which in turn left Chantal Laboureur alone. She now plays alongside Sandra Ittlinger. In view of this interplay, successes were almost non-existent for the time being. It was only at the end of last season that the trend showed an upward trend. Ludwig / Kozouch surprisingly won the final of the world series in Rome in September 2019.
A return on detours
Walkenhorst’s comeback is now hoping to reinforce this trend. “For all of beach volleyball in Germany, it’s nice that it’s back in the sand,” says sports director Hannes Hildebrand. Ex-partner Laura Ludwig emphasizes: “Before her injury, Kira was the best player in the world. You can see that she has not learned anything technically.”
For the athlete it was a return to detour. “In the beginning, I couldn’t even lift a cup out of the cupboard,” says the sports soldier. After several failed attempts, her alternative practitioner found the solution. He discovered that she was still restricted by Pfeiffer’s glandular fever and treated the disease.
Since then Walkenhorst has been pain free. With Melanie Gernert, the most successful player of the German Tour 2019, she therefore announced her comeback last summer. They wanted to get started in 2020. Actually.
Childcare had priority
Then Corona came. And all tournaments were canceled. Only in the course of the easing did the German tour later announce a shortened season. The daycare centers in Walkenhorst’s home town of Hamburg remained closed for the time being. Instead of being able to train, the mother of three had to look after the children with her wife. She advised her teammate to look for a new partner. “When the daycare centers opened again, my fingers itched,” says Walkenhorst. But now the partner was missing.
So Walkenhorst went on a search – via Facebook and Instagram. Some athletes actually came forward. In the end it was found by the association. The mediated her to youth international Anna-Lena Grüne, 18 – a highly predicted defender who won the German youth championship in 2019. At one of the two qualification tournaments, in Düsseldorf this weekend and in Hamburg in two weeks, the new team wants to qualify for the German championship in early September.
“We go in without any great expectations,” said Green. The team is intended as a temporary solution. Because Greens live at the Olympic base in Stuttgart, they cannot train together. Walkenhorst does not currently have a coaching staff, she is still far from her former level of performance. Its a lot to do. “But first, my body has to continue to withstand the strain so well. Then we’ll see,” she says.
Your way back into the sand was difficult. She wants to move him step by step and hopes that he will take her to Paris in four years. Without pain.